Reservations Upgrade Improves Frequent-Flier Service

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Continental Airlines, Houston, this month began implementing new technologies in its reservations call centers to handle calls more efficiently and improve service to its best customers. In the longer term, the systems eventually could be used to improve service to all customers and assist in notifying passengers about delays or schedule changes.

The airline, which uses six call centers around the country with 2,100 stations, handles about 6 million calls per month.

One of the major components of the technology upgrade, which also includes new personal computers and a new operating platform, is the installation of a computer telephony integration system that will recognize callers' phone numbers and prompt automated screen pops. The system is expected to allow members of Continental's frequent-flier program, called OnePass, to have their requests processed more quickly.

"It gives a more personal level of service to them," said Elaine Falcone, manager of reservations projects for Continental. "With today's technology, people have an expectation that you know who they are, especially if they are your valued customers."

The centers will use components of Davox Allbound customer contact platform from Davox Corp., Westford, MA. The Davox Sixth Sense system will be used to produce the screen pops on agents' desktops, while Davox SmartRoute will transfer calls from agent to agent within the system.

OnePass members, whose calls come in through special numbers, will be prompted by an automated call distributor to enter their OnePass number. This will cause the customer's information to appear on the agent's screen as the call is routed to that agent.

"Currently, when someone calls in with a OnePass, they have to recite that number to the agent, and the agent has to type it in, and then wait for the data to come up from the mainframe," said Falcone. "With the new system, the data will be there at the same time that the call comes in."

The system will retrieve flight schedules and other relevant information from the databases and prompt those on the screen.

Although the product initially will be used only for OnePass members, the airline plans to expand its use to other functions, including better handling of reservations calls.

"If a customer calls up, usually they are just shopping," said Don Trout, regional sales director for Davox. "But what SmartRoute can do is that if the person calls back within 20 minutes or within 24 hours, it can bring up their screen from when they were talking the last time, and it can save a lot of time because it will have all the customer's information from the previous call."

In addition, he said, the program can be used for outbound calling. When an agent is not handling an inbound call, passengers' phone numbers will appear on screen for the agent to call about cancellations, delays or other changes in flight information.

"Basically, this is to personalize the call center," said Falcone.

Continental operates a virtual call center environment incorporating six facilities. About 5,400 agents will use the system.

Last week, Continental began installing new Hewlett-Packard desktop computers and a new switched-ethernet platform in its largest call center in Houston. The CTI system could be operational in that call center by the middle of July, Falcone said, although it is expected to take several months for the technology to roll out to all six centers. In addition, the company plans to phase e-mail into the system by the end of the year. A supplier for that service has not yet been selected.

The current setup incorporates a Rockwell Spectrum automated call distributor and GeoTel Communications software for skills-based routing.

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